Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Blu-ray debut for Robert Siodmak's deliciously entertaining film noir-lite, PHANTOM LADY

TrustMovies had imagined that he'd seen the famous 1944 film, PHANTOM LADY at some point along his movie-going life. But, no: this new Blu-ray of the film, released via Arrow Video/Arrow Academy last month, proved quite the eye-opening experience.  Prolific and under-rated director Robert Siodmak (below, of The 
Killers,  Criss Cross and The Spiral Staircase -- among a number of other first-class films) does a bang-up job of bringing to life the screenplay by Bernard C. Schoenfeld (his first), based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich.

The story's a whopper, all right, but it is told with such energy, spirit and twists/turns that it easily hold you throughout the crisp, 87-minute running time.

The film also stars one of my favorite leading ladies of the 40s, Ella Raines, shown above (which was why I was certain I must have seen it), in what is arguably her best role. Ms Raines plays the dogged and loyal secretary to a boss charged with the murder of his nasty wife, and she brings the same combo of sass and class that she showed off in other films of the day (see Impact, for one) and is consistently believable and charming.

Phantom Lady is full of typical noir tropes of the time (the fine cinematography is by Elwood Bredell), but I call it noir-lite due to how often amusing and energetic the movie is, along with the fact that it -- finally, at least -- offers a much more positive take on life and love than do so many other noirs.

Top-billed in the film is suave leading men of the period, Franchot Tone (above, right), in a role quite unlike almost all his others I recall. Mr. Tone doesn't even make an appearance unless around halfway through the mystery, but once he does, he definitely commands things.

The would-be hero is essayed by a looker named Alan Curtis (above and below, right), but his role is so circumscribed that only Ms Raines comes through as anything approaching the heroic.

The plot offers so much frisky fun and consistent incident -- a woman's hat (above, worn by Fay Helm in the title role; below, on Aurora Miranda in the part of a spicy/funny showgirl) proves perhaps the most important prop in the proceedings -- that the end result is what you'd call a lulu of a tale.

Supporting cast is aces, with special mention of Thomas Gomez, below, left, who plays the quiet, subdued and very caring and intelligent detective on the case. Once Gomez's character begins investigating in earnest, the movie grows even better: His marvelous "take" on the character of the murderer offers the kind of psychoanalysis that seems to me to be far ahead of most anything that Hollywood was dishing out at the time.

Also in the cast, and in a particularly strong performance is that unmissable character actor whose work graced so many movies, Elisha Cook, Jr., below). He's very good here -- sleazy and craven as hell -- and his single extended scene is a memorable one.

A model movie that's an unusual blending of light and dark, good and evil, and humor, romance and mayhem, Phantom Lady should be on everyone's list of films to catch up on. Or maybe see again, if it's been a few decades since you first did.

From Arrow Video/Arrow Academy and distributed via MVD Visual, the film hit Blu-ray in a nifty new transfer last month, and is available now for purchase and (I would hope) rental and/or streaming. 

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